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Women Bisnow
January 29, 2008

First Lady of
American Magazines


This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"


By Karin Tanabe for Bisnow on Business

“The media is like another species who likes to eat their young,” Cathie Black’s boss at Gannett, the parent company of USA Today once told her. And instead of running away from what sounds like the occupational equivalent of Dante’s Inferno, Cathie Black decided to jump into the fire.

President of Hearst Magazines and author of a new best-selling book, BASIC BLACK: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life), Cathie Black has achieved what she describes as the 360° life—a fusion of professional achievement and personal happiness. Known as the woman to thank for the success of USA Today, Black now oversees 19 magazines for Hearst and is ringing in the accolades with her first book.


To a room full of America’s future at Trinity (Washington) University, Black divulged some of her secrets of success: Walk like you know where you’re going; don’t sit in the dead zones at conference tables, as women tend to do; dress for the next job you want.


“Advertising is a great place for women because it is all about results,” says Black, who began her career in ad sales for Holiday Magazine. “My boss was a woman, and when she left I went in and pitched for her job and her salary. I didn’t get it, but I did get more than what they offered me. What is the worst that can happen? A person can say no to you, but you could get more than what you ask for.” After working for Ms. Magazine and Francis Ford Coppola’s magazine, Black became publisher of New York magazine in 1979, the first female publisher of a weekly consumer magazine.


“It is all about action. I have never been a ‘wait and see what happens’ kind of person,” says Black signing books at her alma mater.


While at New York, Black was headhunted to come to USA Today, a one-year-old publication hemmoraging money. “USA today was an exhilarating, exhausting challenge—I wouldn’t change it for a minute. Its problem was never the newsstand or circulation; it was cost and generating advertising revenue which was 98% of my job.” Not a typical newspaper, with circulation around 30 markets instead of centering around one, Black stayed for eight years as president then publisher. “I think they were thrilled that a woman was publisher. I got a thousand letters saying, ‘This is so great, I want my daughter to do this.’ Al Neuharth was the chairman of Gannett and didn’t care about tradition, just results. He has always been a rule breaker.” After USA Today proved that the newspaper world isn’t all black and white, Black became CEO of the Newspaper Association of America in 1991.


“You can love your job but your job won’t love you back,” said Black to her note-taking audience.


Is print obsolete? We ask Black, who moved to the Hearst magazine world in ’96. “Magazines are in a very good place. Are there too many magazines? Yes. But that’s the normal course—some fail, some make it. Newspapers are in a much more difficult business model. Think of Cosmo today. It still sells two million copies on the newsstand plus 900,000 subscribers.” Along with Cosmopolitan, Black oversees titles such as Harper's BAZAAR, Marie Claire, and O, The Oprah Magazine, which she calls the most successful magazine launch in history.

Black’s book, Basic Black, launched October 23rd, is a survival guide for anyone under the age of 32, and a refresher course for those over. “I have been working on it in one form or another for a year and a half—talking to Bob Barnett who represented me, talking to agents and lawyers and thinking about what I wanted the book to do.” If Black was thinking that she wanted it to be in its 8th printing and number one on Business Week, then she was on the right track. “I think you really have to think through ‘what do I want.’ You need to live your best life. You can have it all…you just can’t have it all on the same day.”

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